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The Repair-Ware Revolution: Say Goodbye to Our Throwaway Culture and Hello to Fixing Stuff Yourself

A designer from the UK hopes to spark a 'repair-ware' craze that will inspire designers to build products we can actually fix ourselves.
 
 
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Do you ever wish that products would last longer, and that they could be easily repaired when they break? So does Samuel Davies. Last week Treehugger linked to a sweet concept iron imagined by Davies, an industrial designer based in the UK. What makes his iron newsworthy? An accompanying diagram shows the iron with just 11 parts -- each of them designed to be repairable by the owner.

Davies dubbed the project "Repair-ware" and he hopes the concept spreads to other household products.

"I developed Repair-ware as a response to society's attitude of 'throwawayism'," wrote Davies in an email interview. "Consumers don't think twice about throwing products away and buying a new one when they cease to function properly, and perhaps rightly so when these products need a level of technical expertise to diagnose a problem or even just to open them up!"

The iron is just a concept for now, designed for his graduation project from Sheffield Hallam University.

"It was a conceptual project asking whether this could be a possible solution. I think the solution is an ideal that we should work toward, but the reality is that there are many issues which would make implementing the concept quite difficult," Davies wrote. "For example, passing safety standards would be much more difficult when inviting the user to expose internal components, although I have possible solutions to this in my design also."

He picked an iron as his first project as that particular appliance carries a reputation for being difficult to repair on fix-it-yourself Web sites like fixya.com.

"I disassembled a few different irons to learn about how they really work and how the components interact with each other," wrote Davies. "This was an important part of making the concept realistic. I have considered all the components needed and carefully arranged them in a layered structure in order to make the inside of the iron as user-friendly as the outside."

He's on to something. The low cost of today's consumer products makes it easier to chuck out an iron or radio once it stops working. Just $40 for a brand-new iron? Adios, old and busted one.

A significant shift in product design and manufacturing could help change the old, Earth-killing way of thinking when it comes to replacement products. Some companies have manufactured planned obsolescence into their products, pretty much guaranteeing they will break and need replacing.

Plus, there's something so American about buying new stuff. Car manufacturers have tapped into this idea and duped us into thinking that buying a new hybrid vehicle is green. Actually, it's much better for the planet to keep and maintain the car you already own.

When it comes to stuff, swiping the credit card has elbowed out rugged American ideals like ingenuity and self-reliance.

Which leads to a problem with Davies' idea: it's a new product. The best thing you can do for the planet is, well, not buy it.

But as sites like fixya gain popularity, and as green-thinking designers like Davies gain notoriety, hopefully it will spawn a sort of renaissance -- a new repair chic, if you will -- when it comes to the products we own. We've already seen thrift-store fashion become cool. Imagine bragging to your buddies about the laptop, microwave or cell phone you resurrected with your own hands.

Davies hopes creating user-repairable goods will ultimately connect us to them and change how we think about them.

"I am particularly interested in allowing objects to become emotionally connected to their owners," he wrote. "I hope to achieve this through facilitating self-repair, which is not only practical in allowing the product to function for an extended period of time but allows a sentiment to form."

It's a step in the right direction.

 
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